Study Abroad – A Parent’s Perspective on travel & letting go
My oldest daughter just landed in Shanghai for her first Study Abroad program.
I am happy she is in China safely. I have been watching the clock and calculating the 12 hours ahead, following happily along with her initial itinerary. I imagine she is full of excitement and exhaustion from the long flight.
I have to admit: Sending her off for her study abroad was somewhat of a relief. The days and weeks of planning amidst all of our other life events made for a wee bit of stress.
Well, maybe MORE than a wee bit of stress…
It was at times fun to plan, pack, and fantasize about the sights and food in China. It was also fertile ground for power struggles, family sit-down chats, and self-check-ins about my OWN energy that was clouding the planning process.
I am feeling all-the-feels, as it is de-rigueur to say. I am happy. I am a wreck. I am filled with excitement, and riddled with anxiety-based-what-if travel scenarios.
This is not the first time that we have been apart for long periods of time. Both of our girls have gone away to camp for several weeks each summer. I loved the time to myself to breathe and rest, as much as I appreciated all the new and fun experiences that they were having.
Right now, summer camp feels like child’s play compared to the preparation and planning for a study abroad in a majorly far away country.
To backtrack for a moment…
Both of my children study Mandarin Chinese. I KNEW that when they picked this course of study (and yes, it was a decision that the girls discussed and debated with us at-length before making their choices), that a study abroad program in China would be in their future. I, myself have studied several Romance languages and I lived in both Mexico and Italy for long periods of time and LOVED it.
Immersion was THE THING that took my language skills from perfunctory classroom recitation to fluency. I was confident that my girls would undertake the same kind of program in their own lives.
The China trip was announced over two years ago, as her teacher and school knew that we needed time to plan, to fundraise (travel ain’t cheap!), and to get everything we needed together. My daughter began a plan to babysit several days a week during the summer, and socked money away week-after-week. She launched her own “Go Fund Me” campaign (with a little parental help) and asked for donations.
She raised the required $4,500 for her trip. We felt so proud of her efforts and the seed that was planted began to grow into full-blown excitement.
For ME, stress began to mount over what felt like a huge burden of “What-Ifs.”
It went a little something like this:
We live rurally. Will my daughter know how to get on and off a city bus? Will she know how to handle her money? Will she look both ways before crossing the street? Does she know how to carry her bag across her shoulder to keep it snug and safe from pickpockets? How will she cope with the huge crowds? Will she need to use her kickboxing skills in real-time? Will she put on enough sunscreen? We she dress modestly? Will she stay hydrated? Does she know how to treat herself if she gets diarrhea/nausea etc? And on, and on, and on….
Any scenario, I have imagined it.
I found myself getting mired in a feeling of inadequacy that I had not better prepared her for EVERY LIFE SCENARIO that could possibly come her way. (Yes, I know how insane this sounds! Hooray for Mom Guilt!) ……Like there was some kind of international boot camp I should have put her through in order to be properly prepared for study abroad and also wilderness and city survival.
I was gently and lovingly reminded by my patient-as-a-saint-husband, that our lives together have been the training she needs. We have travelled A LOT with our children and they have paid attention. We have included them in the preparations. We talk to our kids about safety. We model and LIVE the kinds of relationships we want them to have.
My daughter is smart-as-a-whip, compassionate, and highly organized.
I needed to SEE and ACKNOWLEDGE that about her.
My husband also reminded me that travel IS also the bootcamp. That these experiences are how she will learn to trust herself.
He also reminded me that the gift of OUR TRUST would help set her on that path of self-awareness and connectedness that comes from travel.
Ahhhh………That was it: TRUST.
I found myself reaching out to friends who have studied abroad, and who have experienced similar emotions with their own families.
My friend Marina shared with me: “I always felt that they [my parents] had the trust in my abilities to figure it [Travel Abroad] out, they are very proud and supportive of me and honestly, it made our relationship so strong and special. I absolutely love my parents. Now, as a mom myself I understand how hard it must’ve been for them to let me fly into the unknown and let go of control. It is the ultimate parental sacrifice to let go of your child.”
She articulated about TRUST so well.
My friend Jude stated in regards to her son’s travel abroad: “I love watching it. It is filled with the beauty of being young so far away from what you know, and the joy of being together in the experience of what you don’t. What a time this will be for your baby who has grown like a glorious flower opening to welcome the warmth of the sun.”
I am grateful for have they have shared.
So… have you been through something similar in letting your child study abroad? Did you, yourself travel far from home and feel a range of emotions? I would love hear from you.
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“I found myself feeling getting mired in a feeling of inadequacy that I had not better prepared her for EVERY LIFE SCENARIO that could possibly come her way.”
I remember driving across the country when our girl was in second grade. I had boxes that were packed and organized for easy finding of ANYTHING that could possibly come up as well as little entertaining things to keep her busy. I had planned for EVERY possible thing. I thought. Along the way, one of the entertainment things she had in the back seat broke/ripped/fell apart. She asked for tape. I hadn’t brought it. Forehead smack. ‘How could I have forgotten to pack tape?’ in my head. No, there’s no tape, and she figured another solution. And that was the lesson for me.
Your Ellie is so ready for this trip! And if she needs proverbial tape, she will find what she needs.